If you count my preview of Scythe Specter last summer, today is my hundredth article for GatheringMagic.com! To celebrate, I want to do something a little special. Let’s look at some of my favorites and some hidden gems from the common and uncommon slots. Sometimes, we may focus a bit too much on rares and mythics. After all, when we open a pack, we head directly to the back to see what the rare or foil might be. Instead of looking at the expensive side of Magic, I want to look at those who do yeoman’s work for your decks. Some of the cards in today’s list are old cards that still have a nice shine. Others are new cards that I want to ensure older players consider. A handful are cards I’ve espoused many times before, while the rest are relatively new players in my columns. All of these cards are cheap, easy to acquire, and ready to rock. I hope that you can find some for your next casual deck!
These cards are in no particular order:
This common from Urza’s Saga is the best life-gaining spell of all time. It once dominated multiplayer tables so much that False Cure became almost a requirement. After the popularity of Commander spread as the casual format du jour, it took a back seat as people began at 40 life already. What good is a spell that gains me 20 life if I don’t need it? I understand that, but then I see all of these life-gaining cards played as well, such as creatures with life-gain when they enter the battlefield (ETB) or other spells. If you play a 20-life format, this is essential. If not, it’s still worth playing in a lot of decks. Reconsider Congregate.
Considering how popular Acidic Slime is at the multiplayer table, I’m surprised that Mold Shambler doesn’t see more play—especially in Commander, which is a format that revels in redundancy. Sure, the fact that the Shambler has kicker means it doesn’t work well with some Slime tricks, such as flickering or recursion for triggering its ability, but it’s a 3/3 beater that can destroy a planeswalker. It has value at the table, no question.
Standstill is one of the most complex and unusual cards for multiplayer ever. Playing it changes how people play the game. It’s so interesting, that I wrote an entire article once on just this one card. You can find it here.
A lot of multiplayer games see small creatures hitting the battlefield. Utility creatures such as mana producers and life engines (Soul Warden et all) are regularly seen. Then, add creatures such as Mother of Runes, Auramancer, 1/1 tokens, Nekrataal, and more friends to consideration. With all of these small creatures, a simple Pyroclasm can often be really powerful. Having it on a stick is great—if you don’t need to sweep out the weenies, it can still swing, block, and sacrifice to deal an extra 2 to finish off a creature damaged by something else (perhaps from combat).
After playing with it for a few months, Tandem Lookout has become one of my favorite soulbond creatures (I like to think of that mechanic as the old Marvel comic, Marvel Team Up!). The Lookout teams up with somebody about to swing to hit a foe for a few damage, and now you’ll have a free card-draw to replace the Lookout with the promise of future drawing. You can see a solid number of cards over a few turns, and if the creature paired with the Lookout is offed, you can just team up with another creature that arrives on your table.
Organ Grinder is among the best and yet subtle stalemate breakers. If you can’t swing for 3, you can tap, exile a trio of cards to cause a foe to lose 3 life, and continue as long as you have fuel in the graveyard. I like it better than Dauthi Marauder in most decks because it can block normal creatures, but the Marauder is the stronger card in some decks because it doesn’t hurt your own graveyard. The Grinder has the potential to be abused by untap effects such as Umbral Mantle or Thousand-Year Elixir. Consider the Grinder and Marauder as bodies for some of your black decks.
Recently, Wizards of the Coast added looting to red, and now you see the red looters a lot in multiplayer. Do you know what that tells you? That looting is really good, especially in Commander where you have ninety-nine cards in your deck and one copy of the card you need the most! Other than blue and red, no other color has looting, and yet all could use it—especially white, whose card-drawing is very underwhelming. For just a 2 mana and tap, you can draw and discard. Sure, you can use it to trigger madness or discard flashback and so forth, but it’s good just to sift through your deck.
Shape Stealer is a really underplayed powerhouse, so take a gander at it. With just a 2-mana cost, you can play it on turn two or three easily. Then, keep it back to block. To verify what you read, when it blocks, it gains the power and toughness of the creature that it blocks. Most creatures in Magic have identical power to toughness, so it will trade with those creatures. It also trades with any creature with a bigger power. Finally, it blocks and lives by blocking any creature with a smaller power than toughness. So it will either survive or trade with any creature it blocks (barring an ability such as first strike). That’s a strong guy on defense for a small mana investment.
Another great 2-mana blocker is this guy from Stronghold. Because he sends all damage back to he who damaged it (sort of like an early take on Stuffy Doll), a lot of people won’t attack into it with their larger creatures. No one wants Terra Stomper to smash a Maniac.
Let’s round out this 2-mana creature mini-phase we are in with a Starlight Invoker. Why do I like this card? Of all of the Invokers, it falls perfectly in the middle. It doesn’t annoy people with death or creature removal, and it doesn’t suck. In the late game, just make some extra life as you have more mana than you can harness—a lot of decks have acceleration for mana and then just sit on 10 or 12 mana for turn after turn with not much to do with it, and this gives you an option. As a 1/3 blocker early, it adds to the board, and you don’t mind drawing it later in the game either.
Played pretty decently in Commander, I don’t see Soothsaying outside of it much. It’s a nice uncommon that allows you to shuffle your library or rearrange X cards deep, where X is the mana you spend. As an enchantment, it hits and sticks for use again and again. The ability to trigger this and receive card quality helps to ensure that you win the game by drawing what you need. (Plus, shuffling can help after your commander is tucked or something.)
Similar to Grab the Reins in many ways, because of the rules of Commander, it can only be played in Grixis decks. Stealing a creature, attacking someone with it, and then sacrificing the creature is very mean. By the way, this a sorcery that’s really enhanced when it has flash because then you can steal one creature to blocker another before sacrificing the blocker later. Maybe you can kill the attacker it blocks, turning it into a two-for-one trade.
I regularly play Rolling Thunder as my X spell of choice in multiplayer. I love to hit multiple creatures, and I can always deal all of it to someone’s face when needed. There are not very many X spells that are better, though perhaps Banefire in some situations. Sure, a lot of decks might be oriented toward Fanning the Flames or Volcanic Geyser, but pound for pound, Rolling Thunder is the best X spell red has ever had.
There are some who play Tolaria West with great regularity. It needs to be played more. I can’t tell you how many decks I see online and in real life that benefit from a TWest but don’t run it. If you have lands that have abilities other than tapping for mana, this is an essential tutor. The possible tempo loss of a ETB-tapped land is worth it. Since it taps for , it’s a very rare deck that can’t replace an Island with a Tolaria West.
How many creatures in the game of Magic have an enters-the-battlefield trigger that tutors for a card and places it right into your hand? Rune-Scarred Demon fetches any card, green has a set of land-fetching creatures, and there are a few others such as Trinket Mage, Treasure Mage, Stoneforge Mystic, Squadron Hawk, and Fierce Empath. This is a very uncommon ability, which makes the Hartebeest strong when you consider the value of tutoring for any Aura. Imagine it in a deck with Faith's Fetters, Mind Control, or Rancor. This is just a modest package of Auras; it could be a lot worse.
Most discard in multiplayer is weak because it only hits one player, often makes an enemy of that player, and usually doesn’t scale in power to reflect the neediness of card advantage in a format where you are being outdrawn one-to-X, where X is the number of opponents you have. The handful of cards that force everyone to discard are sweet. Take a look at cards such as Liliana's Specter, Scythe Specter, Unnerve, Syphon Mind, and of course Cackling Fiend. It may not be much in a duel, but when facing multiple foes, it plays very well indeed.
Having seen print twice, this common from Weatherlight and Portal packs a real power. You spend 3 mana, and then each player can choose to shuffle any number of cards back into his or her library to redraw that many. It’s a nice Winds of Change because people can keep what they want. You can send some lands or cards you don’t want back for draws. Unlike Winds of Change, this is not card disadvantage because you get to draw a card after it resolves, so it replaces itself. The card-quality potential is strong for a spell that will never be card disadvantage and has an ability hard to find in your card collection.
The more I play with it, the more I really like the Ring of Xathrid. Today, it’s my second-favorite for multiplayer after Ring of Valkas and its haste. I wouldn’t have thought it would rank so highly, but after play, it’s much better. Sure, it’s not as good as Swiftfoot Boots giving my best guy hexproof, but it still can regenerate from most targeted removal, and unlike the hexproof, it can also regenerate from damage in combat and some sweeping removal, such as Magmaquake and Day of Judgment.
One of the somber realities of multiplayer is the proliferation of flying in one’s creature base. With so many flyers out there, cards such as Songstitcher have value. After all, you can’t win until you don’t lose. You need to survive to win, and this helps you do so by preventing damage from flyers by using some of that extra mana you have lying around. It’s a 1/1 for 1 mana that is often ignored on the board by foes who should be paying more attention—and that only enhances its value.
Recently, we’ve seen a new blast of Wing Snare variants printed as instants. An instant Plummet or Pistus Strike adds a lot to the team, but for my money, Eaten by Spiders is the best Wing Snare variant ever printed. The extra mana over Plummet is more than equalized by the ability to smash offending Equipment as well, if your foe has the temerity to equip it to said flyer. Getting a two-for-one trade (or better) doesn’t always kick in, but when it does, you’ll be glad. Since it’s always an instant one-for-one trade with a flyer, this card just works.
Both of these cards are very similar, and both are great choices for a lot of decks. Any deck with three or more colors can really benefit from Alloy Myr. Any deck that uses the 2 mana from Sol Ring can harness Palladium Myr well. Now, a 2/2 artifact creature for 3 mana does not fit every deck, so the idea that you should be playing them in every single multiplayer and/or Commander deck is silly. But these creatures should at least be considering for many such decks. These guys have serious potential.
This is a time when decks with more spells are at an all-time high with Talrand, Sky Summoner as a popular commander and Delver of Secrets and Runechanter's Pike still giving power. Yet I don’t see Eyes of the Watcher in them. Whenever you play an instant or sorcery, just spend an extra mana to scry 2. Even newer players know that’s significant and useful after using and abusing scry in the wake of Magic 2011. This is great stuff for consideration for any deck that has a majority of its cards in the instant or sorcery category.
Green’s answer to blue’s Scroll Thief and Ophidian initially was not draw abilities of its own, but this. I am still shocked this is a cheap common, especially post-Innistrad. You get the first land from your deck into play, and the rest go into your graveyard as fodder for everything from threshold to reanimation. This great ability happens whenever the Druid smashes someone’s face, and at a multiplayer table, you often find someone open. If you trigger its ability twice, you have gained card advantage and improved your graveyard options as well. The more you use it, the more broken it becomes.
As I mentioned in Songstitcher, staying alive allows you to win. Preventing damage is a way to keep your cool when attacked by a foe. From Maze of Ith to Horn of Deafening, and yes, even Songstitcher, you can keep the damage down. Gossamer Chains is another way to keep the dream alive by bouncing it to your hand to prevent all damage from another source. Not only does it work normally, but you can also break it with cards such as Cloudstone Curio and Sigil of the Empty Throne.
Over the years, blue has had a lot of abilities, and you can find whatever you need. Do you need creature removal? Take a gander at Pongify, Psionic Blast, and Turn to Frog. Maybe you want to remove some artifacts from your foes. Just steal that Equipment or Staff of Nin—Steal Artifact and Master Thief are yours to command. You can even Steal Enchantment or just Take Possession. Plus, you can always rely on the gold ol’ bounce-and-counter trick. But one thing you don’t see is mana fixing and land searching. That’s why this guy is golden. The ability to tap and Harrow in blue is phenomenal. If you want mass land searching or you desire a guy to Harrow over and over again, this is your best option outside of green. Try them out!
I love this card for a lot of reasons. First of all, with so many enemies trying graveyard tricks in multiplayer (and especially Commander), having answers makes a lot of sense. This is a powerful answer, and it’s also an instant. Use it in response to that Reanimate or Genesis trigger. Another thing I like about this is that is drains your foe of life for each card removed. He loses life, and you gain it. That makes this essentially an instant Blaze that exiles cards, gains you life, and only targets a player. It plays smoothly, and if you aren’t running one in your black deck and if graveyards are biting, this is one of my recommended solutions.
Because of the rules of Commander, just like Slave of Bolas had to be run in a deck that featured all three of the Grixis colors, this must be played in a deck that has blue and black. In other formats, that’s not a restriction, and he’s solid even without the other color. What makes this card so good is the fact that you can spend extra mana to force discards or draw cards (as you prefer) over and over again. When you have 4 mana around, just activate it. Compare it to the commonly played Azure Mage, who can’t be used to discard and who is just a 2/1. Clearly, the Azure Mage is playable in decks that don’t have black, but if you have them both, this is an amazing guy who often is allowed to work his magic over several turns.
These two recently printed removal spells are simple and cheap and play elegantly. Sure, Divine Verdict can off an attacker, Judge Unworthy can scry, Doom Blade costs a bit less, and so forth, but for a simple 3 mana, these both are great removal choices for their colors. In particular, Murder is better than virtually any other one-for-one creature-removal spell in its color. With such interesting commons that you can select from, finding removal for a deck built on the cheap doesn’t have to result in a bad deck.
Drawing cards is great. The Serum Tank receives counters as artifacts enter the battlefield, and you can tap it for 3 mana, pull off a counter, and draw. Since it picks up a counter from coming into play initially, you can use it immediately. What a lot of folks miss is that is receives a counter for every artifact that arrives, not just yours. I’ve played these in decks with perhaps ten to twenty percent artifacts, and yet the Tanks have enough counters to be used turn after turn with few interruptions. So many artifacts hit the board, such as mana producers (Sol Ring or Signets), land fetchers (Expedition Map and Armillary Sphere), utility artifacts (Nihil Spellbomb and Dispeller's Capsule), artifact creatures (Solemn Simulacrum and Steel Hellkite), broken artifacts (Mind's Eye and Eldrazi Monument) , and Equipment (Swords of X and Y and Lightning Greaves). With all of these artificial folks running around, your Tank should be fine in the charge-counter department.
Our final card for today is this fun uncommon enchantment from Mercadian Masques (printed as a rare later). A lot of decks with blue have a high number of creatures. If yours does as well, this will be a heavy hitter. All of your creatures will draw you cards as they hit opponents. In the color of unblockable creatures, shadow dorks, and evasion such as flying a-go-go, you’ll be able to hit for sure. If you want to double down on that likelihood, cards such as Whispersilk Cloak will join the conversation. Reloading your hand is important after playing a lot of creatures because you’ve opened yourself to the possibility of being owned by mass removal such as a Damnation or Rout. If you can generate enough steam to keep going, the pressure is on, and you can recover from the expiration of your dudes. This underplayed card gives you all of the steam you need.
Today, we looked at thirty cards stretching from Antiquities to Magic 2013 and Avacyn Restored. There are a lot of great commons and uncommon to acquire for very little money that will give your deck the boost you’ve been longing for. I hope that we uncovered some goodies for you to spring on your friends at the next Magic night!
See you next week,